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Hopeful to See Action Against E-Pharmacies Selling Medicines Online Without Licenses: Pharmacy Body Writes to States and UTs

Online pharmacies currently deliver medicines through logistics companies who do not hold these licenses, the pharmacy body alleged.

Update, 5/6/2023 at 12:00 pm: Karnataka’s Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao assured offline pharmacy coalitions that measures will be taken against online pharmacies, a South Chemists and Distributors Association spokesperson said in a recent statement viewed by MediaNama.

The SCDA team, along with the Karnataka Pharma Retailers & Distributors Organization, met with various state health officials on June 3rd briefing them of the Delhi High Court’s 2018 injunction on platforms selling drugs online without the necessary licences. SCDA highlighted the e-pharmacy “Pharmallama” and its allegedly illegal business activities, which include selling drugs without “outer strips”.

Pharmallama provides sequenced sachets of pills sorted according to a doctor’s prescription. MediaNama has reached out to the platform for comments, this piece will be updated when they respond.

Original piece, published on 3/6/2023 at 12:57 pm: “We are really hopeful that action will be taken against those who are indulging in online sales of medicines without any license issued for the sales over the internet,” wrote the South Chemists and Distributors Association (SCDA) in a letter to the drug controllers of 36 of India’s states and Union Territories yesterday.

The offline pharmacy body’s letter comes after the Delhi High Court’s 2018 interim stay on e-pharmacies selling medicines without a license, issued in a case filed by dermatologist Zaheer Ahmed. In a recent hearing, the Court appeared surprised that e-pharmacies continued selling medicines online “with no real measures taken by the States to stop such unregulated sale,” SCDA added in its letter.

Regulatory action on e-pharmacies “will help to improve the health of our citizens and save the further spread of Anti Microbial Resistance (AMR) which is in Public Interest and in the interest of Public Health”, SCDA argued.

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Drugs cannot be delivered to homes and have to be dispensed to a “licensed premises” under a registered pharmacist’s supervision, SCDA noted in its letter.

While the government temporarily allowed door-delivery of medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic, SCDA argued that this was only permissible to Form 20 or 21 licensees under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Online pharmacies currently deliver medicines through logistics companies who do not hold these licenses, the pharmacy body alleged. Medicines also have to be dispensed according to the category of disease, it argued.

Prescriptions for door-delivered medicines have to be received by the licensee in hand or over an individual email registered with the state drugs controller, making “receiving orders on [the] internet or app illegal”, SCDA said.

Also, while only Schedule H drugs under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act can be delivered to homes under the COVID-19 exemption, SCDA claimed to have “many examples” of online pharmacies delivering Schedule H1 drugs too. Deliveries can only be made in the revenue district where the licensee holds a license, however, online pharmacies deliver from different states, SCDA added.

The recent Delhi High Court hearing also revealed that a majority of stakeholders had opposed 2018’s draft e-pharmacy regulations, with India’s drugs controller now contemplating fresh stakeholder discussions. The Court gave the government six weeks to wrap up the meetings and offer its final stand on the matter.

Prosecution of violating e-pharmacies will not be affected by the pending proceedings, the Court added. Multiple e-pharmacies have been served show-cause notices by India’s drugs regulator following the Court’s 2018 order.

SCDA has filed multiple cases against online pharmacies, and is also a petitioner in the Zaheer Ahmed case.

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I'm interested in stories that explore how countries use the law to govern technology—and what this tells us about how they perceive tech and its impacts on society. To chat, for feedback, or to leave a tip: aarathi@medianama.com

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